The core muscles tie everything together in the centre of the body. They are the control switch. If you flick the core muscles into the ‘on’ position, they pull all the central supporting parts together neatly and make a nice, strong, stable background for upright posture. The body is then ready for strong, precise, secure, skilled movements. These muscles are called ‘core’ for a reason.
Think of a planet: The core is the centre. Everything else attaches to it and rotates around it. Layers and layers cover the core. It generates the gravity that keeps everything together. Without gravity, things float aimlessly off into space. In a body with a weak core, movements become imprecise – like underwater running. The core is at the heart of musculo-skeletal function.
Developing eyes need proper anti-gravity head control for convergence. This means lifting your head in a smooth movement when you are lying flat on your back. ALL children with amblyopia (lazy eye) have to master this. Those eyes just don’t work together properly until kids can control their head movements against gravity. (See Proprioception). In other words, they have to activate and strengthen their core.
The fallout of a weak core present much like developmental coordination disorder. Children seem clumsy, physically unsure, floppy. Weak core muscles create emotional anxiety. It is scary to have bad control over one’s own body.
All the core muscles work in synergy. If one lot doesn’t work, the others don’t work well either. The tongue also works in synergy with the abdominal core. Core muscle work should form part of treatment when addressing speech- and feeding problems.
There are four basic groups of stabilizers that work together in synergy to form the core:
- Deep neck flexors. They almost line the back of the throat and perform a tiny chin tuck type action or posterior occipital lift.
- Lower trapezius. These muscles pull the shoulder blades down, without pulling them together.
- Abdominal muscles + multifidus. Transverse abdominus muscle pulls the belly button in, then up; multifidus is its partner in the back. Multifidus is a short segmental spinal stabilizer that runs from one vertebra to the next. These two muscles form a natural corset around the waist.
- Pelvic floor. The muscles you use on the toilet to stop mid-wee. The whole abdominal contents hang in them like a sling.
If your child can’t jump: Start with their core.
Quick test: Let your child lie flat on his back. Get him to lift his head off the surface. Command: “Look at me. No, lift your head.” This is surprisingly harder than it sounds. If you see lots of squirming and cheating – know that the core muscles are not quite there.
A basic pull-up exercise is all you need to kickstart your child’s core:
You can access a child’s core muscles by using their diaphragm on exhalation. “Blow out, then lift your head”. Have them lie on their back with bent knees. Start with a pillow behind the head. This puts the head in the mid-range of the movement. Mid-range movements are the easiest. Think of a bicep curl: You do it with a bent elbow. If you started with a straight elbow it becomes so much harder, you might want to give up right there. As your child gets better at doing a slow, controlled movement, you can do the exercise without a pillow.
Always use the same single command for any one action. Much like you would train your puppy to sit. And similarly, some small reward afterwards helps a lot.
First get your child to understand how to blow out:
Blow out, lift your head
Or for smaller children:
Do as many repetitions as your child can do correctly or want to do. Anything from 3-20 usually. Make this part of your child’s routine once a day: Getting dressed in the morning, before a bath, before bed. In anyone’s mind, a simple little exercise can become the thing you have to do – like brushing teeth – if it is part of the usual routine.
After about a month to six weeks, your child may start to astonish you with some newfound bravery or skills. Have fun!